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Callinectes sapidus the Blue Crab

Down the Atlantic shore below Virginia, around the Florida peninsula, and across the Gulf States, the Blue Crab isn't in serious trouble of depletion. However, in the Chesapeake Bay, where demand for that most excellent crustacean promotes the Blue Crab to a status above that of the crawfish in Southern Louisiana, the crab fishery was failing. The Chesapeake Bay ecosystem has degraded until even the hardy, resilient Blue Crab is under stress. In Baltimore, head of the Bay, the historical earliest cash harvests from the bountiful waters were ducks and oysters. As the Atlantic Flyway became a continuum of large cities, development took away much of the habitat that supported ducks. Large cities have large appetites, and the next to go were oysters, now less than one percent in biomass from the pre-Columbian numbers. When the filter-feeders disappear, so does water clarity. Between loss of oyster filters, farm nitrogenous runoff wastes down the rivers, and developmental pollution and siltation, the water quality became such that bottom aquatic grasses could no longer receive sufficient sunlight at depth.

These are nursuries for all life in the Chesapeake, and the impact was immediate and severe. Even the vaunted rockfish, the Atlantic Striped Bass, a fall-back harvest which the Chesapeake watermen now exploited, became a species of concern, and the fishery was closed for ten years in hope of recovery. That left only the Blue Crab.

From one side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where US 50 crosses at Annapolis to the Kent Island shore, there are crab pot floats in a grid, every 40 to 50 feet in season, May through October. But in recent years the harvest of Blue Crab has fluctuated wildly, so much so that only the shipments of crabs from the Carolinas and Louisiana, where crab harvest was almost just a by-catch to shrimp trawling, could meet demand. And the economic impact of the loss of crab numbers has been severe. On Memorial Day, the first traditional day of big crab feasts in the Chesapeake region, a bushel of Number One jimmies, male blue crabs six to six and one-half inches at maximum shell width, sold for $200 dollars in recent years. A dozen steamed Number Ones at almost the poorest seafood houses would bring from $50 to $70 dollars. Add to that the high demand for picked lumb white crabmeat for Maryland crab cakes, and the economic engine was utilizing the crab biomass at or beyond full capacity. There were other pressures farther to the south end of the Bay, as Virginia watermen employed dredges to pull up the gravid females during the winter from their mud nests in the traditional rookery to which they had migrated in fall. Yes, the crabs were in trouble, and so were the people who harvested them for profit.

Where Are the Problems?

Blue Crab Advanced Research Consortium (BCARC) - INITIATIVES
Blue Crab Anatomy
How Are Crabs Doing?
Taking Stock of Blue Crabs
Biology of Blue Crabs
Migration of female blue crabs
Case of the Missing Females
Counting Blue Crabs in Winter
Blue Crab Recruitment
Derelict Crab Trap Initiative
Crabbing for Hard Crabs
Crabbing for Soft Crabs
Crab Facts & Photos
Blue Crab Life Stages


Research Efforts on Blue Crabs at GCRL

GCRL comparisons of habitat for rearing blue crabs are on-going. Blue crabs are pugnaciously territorial, and cannibalistic when adequate cover is lacking for juveniles.



Movie on Blue Crab Development

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